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In 1968, M.F.K. Fisher said “The trouble with tripe is that in my present dwelling place, a small town in Northern California, I could count on one hand the people who would eat it with me.” Regrettably, I, whose present dwelling place is a huge city in the Northeast, can say the same in 2012.

But Tom and I love tripe. So when I made my newest cookbook purchase, Jennifer McLagan’s Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal, the first section I turned to was the one on tripe. And smiled to see that quotation from Fisher’s With Bold Knife and Fork. McLagan realizes the difficulty of persuading people to eat tripe, which must be why she dubbed this recipe Beginner’s Tripe. It has so many other tasty things in it, she hopes to distract the faint-hearted from thinking about the principal ingredient.

I well know the difficulty of that. To me, tripe’s public relations problem is that it’s not one of those exotic-sounding but mild meats like rattlesnake or alligator, of which you can tell people, “Oh, don’t worry; it really tastes just like chicken.” Tripe doesn’t taste like chicken. Tripe tastes like nothing but itself. It’s animaly. It’s pungent. It’s spongy. It’s Dionysian, not Apollonian. But those of us who like it, like it for just those reasons. Sorry, faint hearts! But – truth be told – this recipe does go a long way toward disguising those characteristics.The recipe is for a sort of stew, which starts with a thick sauce base of olive oil, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, lemon zest, chile flakes, and tomatoes. Nothing to fear there, and plenty of concealment for the tripe!

The tripe, cut into tiny strips (thanks, Tom), goes into that sauce along with some meat broth, and cooks lengthily on top of the stove until it’s tender. McLagan says to blanch it first, but tripe is sold so cleanly pre-cooked these days that I rarely bother to do that, and I didn’t this time. No problem.

Now here comes the interesting part, which is the major tripe-distracting ingredient in the recipe: chickpeas. Cooked or canned chickpeas (I used good canned ones) are drained, rinsed, dried well, and sautéed in olive oil until browned. To them are added sliced chorizo and diced red bell pepper, all of which is further sautéed until the chickpeas are crunchy, the chorizo rendered, and the pepper softened.

Once all those things are added to the tripe and sauce, heated together briefly, put in a serving dish and topped with parsley, the chickpeas take on the lead role and the terrifying tripe becomes almost undetectable to both the eye and (alas!) the palate in the busy, colorful mixture.

This is a really good dish, flavorful and lively. It wants some crusty peasant bread to sop up the sauce with, possibly a green salad alongside, and a red wine strong enough to stand up to the spicy density of the dish. It might indeed convert a tripe-timid person – though for true aficionados, there isn’t enough tripe in it. Tom wants me to double the proportion of tripe, next time we make it.

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It’s just grand when your oven goes on the fritz in the middle of a dinner party. It happened to me this week as I was making Yorkshire pudding to serve with a standing rib roast of beef. I’d never made Yorkshire pudding before and wasn’t at all certain of my recipe – it was very different from the recipe in another of my cookbooks. Also, this recipe wanted a pan 10 X 15 X 2½ inches and said the pudding would rise above the top of it. My nearest size pan to that was 9 X 13 X 2 inches, and I wondered if I’d end up with pudding all over the oven floor.

The fates had a different trick to play on me, however. The fact that the oven breakdown wasn’t a disaster is due entirely to the enterprise of my sainted husband. Let me tell the story as it developed.

Following the directions in my Cooking of the British Isles volume in the Time-Life Foods of the World series, I’d made up a crèpe-like egg-milk-flour batter in the afternoon and chilled it well. The dinner party was under way and the roast was still cooking in the upper of my two electric wall ovens when I preheated the lower oven to 400 degrees for the Yorkshire pud.

Between the appetizer (prosciutto and pears) and the first course (mushroom risotto), I sizzled rendered beef fat in a baking pan on a stove burner, poured in the pudding batter, and set the pan in the lower oven. Fifteen minutes later, as the guests were having a good time, I went to the kitchen to take out the roast to rest before carving, and turn the pudding’s oven down to 375 for another fifteen minutes.

Horrors! The batter was still completely fluid—looking just as it did when I put the pan in the oven. The oven’s display claimed that its temperature was at 400 degrees, but there was almost no heat in it. Crisis! I called Tom into the kitchen from his hostly duties at the dinner table, showed him the problem, and said What should we do?!

I admit this was not a crisis of the order of the time we forgot to turn on the oven with the suckling pig in it (that’s a story for another day), but it was still serious enough to warrant a family conference.

Calm and practical as always (well, most of the time), he said to turn off that lower oven, set the upper oven on Broil, and put the pudding pan close up under the broiling element. I did. And went back to the dining room for some wine to soothe my spirit and brace me for the charred-on-the-top, damp-on-the-bottom, pseudo-falafel I anticipated.

We gave the roast a slightly longer rest than normal, and by then – wonder of wonders – the pudding seemed to have cooked. It looked ridiculous: It had risen in steep waves and troughs like a troubled sea, and it was nowhere near the top of its pan. But it was mostly a warm golden brown and seemed firm on the bottom, so we went with it.

It was fine. Even though not puffy, as it should have been, it was a bit like popovers: crisp outside and soft within. Plus wonderfully succulent from the beef drippings. The guests ate it with apparent pleasure, a few even having seconds. So, disaster averted and dinner party saved.

The next morning, the dratted oven appeared to be back to working normally, so I can’t even call in a serviceman to look at it because he’d find nothing wrong. This is not a great way to be entering the heavy holiday cooking season.  Stay tuned, in case there’s a next thrilling episode of the distresses of Diane!

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Is Sunday the last day of the old week or the first day of the new? I’m calling it the first, though I might do another new recipe later this week.

Today was Coquilles St. Jacques à la Fondue d’Endives, from a paperback Bistro book that sister-in-law Judy turned me onto. An attractive book that we haven’t used much, though it seems to be a bit arithmetically challenged: To serve 4, the recipe called for 12 sea scallops, which were at the end to be placed 5 to a plate. Oh well, I sometimes have troubles with my checkbook, so who am I to complain? Very nice dish, and very rich: Belgian endive sautéed in butter, scallops sautéed in butter, a sauce of lemon juice, butter (getting a theme here?) and crème fraiche. The sweetness of the scallops and the bitterness of the endive matched well, especially with all that b u t t e r.

The sauce was almost a beurre blanc, but easier to make. No shallots, no reduction of the acid ingredient. Just bring lemon juice to a boil, whisk in pieces of butter, and then add a nice dollop of crème fraiche. Also nicer than I expected was the endive treatment. This is a vegetable we rarely cook, but I can see doing it that way as accompaniment to a grilled meat, maybe – if it didn’t cost a fortune, which today’s pair of endives sort of did. It’s not being a good winter for vegetables, and the ones available are ghastly expensive. But one must eat, non?

The anniversary re-issue. My copy of the original volume fell apart from hard, loving use.

We had the dish as a main course with a rice pilaf from Julia I, after an appetizer of fried oysters on a bed of frisée, with a brilliant little tartare sauce of Tom’s creation, involving capers, cornichon, and pickled ginger, all of which we happened to have in the fridge. These très riche scallops would be better, I think, in smaller quantities as a fish course in an elaborate dinner. We drank a French Sauvignon blanc with it – one of my least favorite white wines, but good with the dish. Which, by the way, the book says is from a Parisian bistro called Chez Diane near the Jardin de Luxembourg.

A few days later: I did one more new recipe this week.  A carrot soup, originally published in a 1976 Terence Conran vegetable book, which I found in the soup volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series. I wanted something simple for a winter’s day, and this was certainly that. Sauté thinly sliced carrot and chopped onion in butter until soft; add stock, salt, sugar, and a bit of rice; simmer 20 minutes, then puree.

I like carrots, and I used hefty, well-grown ones, so I hoped the soup would be okay even if it didn’t come out greater than the sum of its parts. Which it didn’t – should’ve known the Brits don’t really believe in flavor!  It wasn’t bad; just lackluster. You could hardly tell it came from carrots.  Helped immensely by some extra salt (recipe called for only “a pinch” for a pound of carrots and a quart of stock) and a spoonful of crème fraiche stirred into each bowl.

It was a sketchily written recipe. When I write recipes (I’ve published more than 500), I try to anticipate what people might not think of for themselves. But this one said nothing about cooking covered or uncovered, so if anyone had tried to sauté the carrots uncovered, they’d have become shrapnel before ever softening (mine took 30 minutes covered, with a fair amount of tending). Also, the final simmering with only the amount of liquid called for and no lid on the pan would’ve thickened the puree to a paste, and burned it on the bottom, without frequent stirring. Recipe writers shouldn’t assume so much knowledgeability in readers.

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